I Hung My Head
Johnny Cash Lyrics


Jump to: Overall Meaning ↴  Line by Line Meaning ↴

Early one morning
With time to kill
I borrowed Jebb's rifle
And sat on a hill
I saw a lone rider
Crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him
To practice my aim

My brother's rifle
Went off in my hand
A shot rang out
Across the land
The horse, he kept running
The rider was dead
I hung my head
I hung my head

I set off running
To wake from the dream
My brother's rifle
Went into the sheen
I kept on running
Into the south lands
That's where they found me
My head in my hands

The sheriff he asked me
Why had I run
And then it come to me
Just what I had done
And all for no reason
Just one piece of lead
I hung my head
I hung my head

Here in the court house
The whole town was there
I see the judge
High up in the chair
Explain to the court room
What went through your mind
And we'll ask the jury
What verdict they find

I felt the power
Of death over life
I orphaned his children
I widowed his wife
I begged their forgiveness
I wish I was dead
I hung my head
I hung my head
I hung my head
I hung my head

Early one morning
With time to kill
I see the gallows
Up on a hill
And out in the distance
A trick of the brain
I see a lone rider
Crossing the plain

And he'd come to fetch me
To see what they'd done
And we'll ride together
To kingdom come
I prayed for God's mercy
'Cause soon I'd be dead
I hung my head
I hung my head





I hung my head
I hung my head

Overall Meaning

Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head" is a poignant tale about a man who accidentally shoots and kills an innocent traveler, feeling extreme guilt and shame for what he's done. The song begins with the singer sitting on a hilltop with his friend's rifle, casually practicing his aim. When he sees a lone rider crossing the plain, he draws a bead on him, planning to use him as a target. But when his brother's rifle suddenly goes off, he accidentally shoots the rider, who dies as a result. Filled with remorse and shame, the singer runs away but eventually turns himself in, realizing the extent of the harm he caused the deceased's family.


The song spells out the consequences that the singer faces after taking someone's life out of a senseless desire to show off his marksmanship skills. He grapples with feelings of despair and guilt as he runs away from the scene of the crime, trying to avoid owning up to his mistake. But eventually, he has to face the court and confront the devastating effects of his actions. Through the singer's introspective journey, the song highlights the fact that there's always a personal cost to violence, even when it's unintended.


One of the unique features of "I Hung My Head" is its versatile storytelling, which can connect with different kinds of listeners. Listeners who enjoy a good story can appreciate the song's narrative structure and pacing, which captures the tension and drama of the singer's experiences. Meanwhile, listeners who are drawn to Cash's persona and musical style can appreciate his expressive delivery and the sparse, melancholy instrumentation.


Line by Line Meaning

Early one morning
The story starts early in the morning


With time to kill
The singer has nothing to do


I borrowed Jebb's rifle
The singer takes a rifle from his friend Jebb


And sat on a hill
The artist goes to a hill to practice using the rifle


I saw a lone rider
The artist sees a man on a horse in the distance


Crossing the plain
The rider is crossing an open field


I drew a bead on him
The singer aims the rifle at the rider


To practice my aim
The artist wants to improve his shooting skills


My brother's rifle
The rifle the artist is using belongs to his brother


Went off in my hand
The rifle accidentally fired


A shot rang out
The rifle made a loud noise


Across the land
The sound of the shot echoes across the field


The horse, he kept running
The rider's horse continued to run


The rider was dead
The shot killed the rider


I hung my head
The singer feels guilty and ashamed of what he has done


I set off running
The artist runs away from the scene of the crime


To wake from the dream
The artist wishes it was all just a bad dream


My brother's rifle
The rifle is still with the singer


Went into the sheen
The sun shone on the rifle as the singer ran


I kept on running
The artist continues to run


Into the south lands
The artist heads south


That's where they found me
The authorities eventually caught up with the artist


My head in my hands
The singer is full of regret and remorse


The sheriff he asked me
The sheriff interrogates the artist


Why had I run
The sheriff wants to know why the singer ran away


And then it come to me
The singer realizes the mistake he has made


Just what I had done
The singer admits to killing the rider


And all for no reason
The artist killed the rider for no good reason


Just one piece of lead
The single bullet killed the rider


I hung my head
The singer feels ashamed of what he has done


Here in the court house
The story moves to a courtroom


The whole town was there
Everyone in town came to the trial


I see the judge
The artist sees the judge in charge of the trial


High up in the chair
The judge is sitting on a raised platform


Explain to the court room
The judge wants the singer to explain his actions


What went through your mind
The judge is asking the artist to explain his thought process


And we'll ask the jury
The judge will ask the jury to declare a verdict


What verdict they find
The judge wants to know whether the jury finds the singer guilty or not guilty


I felt the power
The singer feels powerless in the face of what he has done


Of death over life
The artist has taken a life, which he cannot give back


I orphaned his children
The rider had children who are now without a father


I widowed his wife
The rider had a wife who is now without a husband


I begged their forgiveness
The singer asks for forgiveness from the rider's family


I wish I was dead
The artist would rather be dead than face the guilt of what he has done


I see the gallows
The artist sees the gallows on a nearby hill


Up on a hill
The gallows are located on a high place


And out in the distance
The singer sees something in the distance


A trick of the brain
The thing in the distance is not actually there, but is a product of the artist's imagination


I see a lone rider
The singer sees the rider from earlier in his imagination


Crossing the plain
The rider is once again crossing the open field


And he'd come to fetch me
The singer imagines that the rider has come to take him to the afterlife


To see what they'd done
The rider wants the artist to see the harm he has caused


And we'll ride together
The artist and the rider will go to the afterlife together


To kingdom come
They will go to the afterlife, often referred to as 'kingdom come'


I prayed for God's mercy
The singer asks for forgiveness and mercy from God


'Cause soon I'd be dead
The artist knows he will soon be executed


I hung my head
The artist continues to feel guilty and ashamed




Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Written by: GORDON SUMNER

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind
To comment on or correct specific content, highlight it

Genre not found
Artist not found
Album not found
Song not found
Most interesting comment from YouTube:

Steven Morris

Now this is real Country. None of this Country music that I absolutely can't stand of today.

For some reason I LOVE THIS COUNTRY MUSIC. Outlaw Country music is the real deal and feels so real and powerful. Man Johnny Cash was a damn King.

The best Country singer in the world. I miss this kind of country and it's dead. All we get now from Country music is always singing about Beer, A girl in a red dress and about a truck.

Aaah and it's so corny, cheesy and so uppity and annoying. I prefer raw Country music like this.

This is my kind to Country music. Although cheesy corny Country music has been away since it was born.

But a prefer the very slick outlook raw cowboy stuff along with Clint Eastwood cowboy films.

Clint Eastwood and Johnny Cash are the best things of western along with John Wayne. Plus what a sad song.



All comments from YouTube:

Vegemite Sandwich

This always gives me chills. I’m not usually a country fan but Jonny was special

Doug Morgan

I don't think people realized how awesome Johnny was even at 😢 end of his life. One of a kind there will never be another like him. He was totally amazing

Yasar Adeel

This edit is underrated. The synchronisation with the lyrics is apt.

Barry

This is just another song Johnny Cash covered and made it his own. So much his own toy wouldn't realise it is in fact a Sting song. It is mind blowing how amazing he was

PerilousRange

I never knew it was originally Sting. It's undeniable, once Johnny Cash covers your song; it's not yours anymore.

Barry

@PerilousRange he's done some other covers that are not the best to be fair, but he was only human

Mr KOY

@Barry the thing with Johnny he never did a cover unless he could understand it. In the beginning he didn't want to do hurt because of the style. One he understood it he lived it

adam lowry

​@Mr KOY u know

Barry

@Mr KOY  probably why he did Ring Of Fire then. Because he knew what it meant. Plus it was his wife's song originally and she would of told him about what it meant why it meant and so on.

Eruton136

Can never listen to this song without a few tears. Video does justice to the song

More Comments

More Versions